BROWN, JAMES NATHANIEL "JIM" (17 February 1936-18 May 2023) was a Hall of Fame running back for the CLEVELAND BROWNS and social activist.

Jim Brown was born on St. Simons Island, Ga. His father Swinton Brown abandoned the family when Jim was two. Eight-year-old Jim moved to Long Island, where his mother found work as a domestic. At Manhasset High School, Brown competed in five sports, becoming notable as a running back for the football team and as a lacrosse player.

Brown attended Syracuse University where he lettered in basketball and track and was an all-American in football and lacrosse. In the 1957 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns picked Brown sixth overall. (The Browns lost a coin flip to the Steelers, who picked one spot before them, taking Purdue QB Len Dawson, who went on to a Hall of Fame career – in Kansas City.) Brown was also drafted by the Syracuse Nationals of the NBA.

Brown started almost immediately for the Browns, and distinguished himself just as quickly as one of the league’s best players. He was named to the Pro Bowl in every year of his nine-year career, and was named all-NFL for eight of them. He remains the only running back in NFL history to average more than 100 yards per game, never missed a game in his career and had more touchdowns (126) than games played (118). He was a three-time NFL MVP (the only player that wasn’t a quarterback to win multiple MVP awards), led the league in rushing in eight of his nine seasons and was a member of one championship team, in 1964.

Jim Brown runs for most yards in a single game, Los Angeles Rams at Cleveland Browns 1957
Courtesy of Cleveland Memory
Jim Brown runs for most yards in a single game, Los Angeles Rams at Cleveland Browns 1957. Brown set an NFL record with 237 yards on 31 carries in a 45-31 win in Cleveland. He scored 4 touchdowns, with one on a 69-yard run.

Also in 1964, Brown made his movie debut, in Rio Conchos. Two years later, he was in England filming The Dirty Dozen when Browns training camp started. Threatened with fines for not being there, Brown opted to retire instead. At the time of his retirement, he was the career NFL leader in rushing yards, overall yards, touchdowns, rushing touchdowns and a host of other categories.

Brown’s movie career included roles in Ice Station Zebra, 100 Rifles, The Running Man, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and Any Given Sunday. He made appearances on TV shows including I Spy, CHiPs, The A-Team and Arli$$.

Following his retirement from the NFL, Brown increased his activism. He was notable for being one of the organizers of the “Ali Summit,” a 1967 meeting in Cleveland of Black athletes and activists to support boxer Muhammad Ali, who had refused induction into the U.S. Army and was stripped of his heavyweight title. He also founded the  Negro Industrial and Economic Union, giving loans to Black businessmen. In the 1980s, he founded Amer-I-Can Foundation, teaching skills and rehabilitating gang members and prisoners.

Brown was married twice. He married Sue Jones in 1959. They had three children, twins Kim and Kevin, born in 1960, and James Jr., born two years later. They divorced in 1972. He married his second wife, Monique Gunthrop, in 1997. Together, they had a son, Aris, and a daughter, Morgan.

Brown was arrested several times, usually in connection with violence against women. He was never convicted of any serious crimes, either exonerated by juries or because victims declined to testify. In 1999, he served several months in jail when he refused to attend counseling following a domestic incident with his wife Monique.

Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. Also that year, his uniform number was retired by the Browns. He was elected to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1984 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995. In 2015, a statue of him was unveiled at Syracuse University, and the following year, one of him was dedicated at FIRSTENERGY STADIUM.

Vince Guerrieri

Last updated: 5/30/2023

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